Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Gell-Mann Amnesia

I wanted to take a look at how some of the more mainstream (that is, non-specialist) publications are reporting on today’s decision by the FCC to allow advanced discussion on, amongst other topics, the implicit segregation of internet traffic. As a reminder, though, here’s Michael Crichton on the Gell-Mann amnesia effect:

Briefly stated, the Gell-Mann Amnesia effect is as follows. You open the newspaper to an article on some subject you know well. In Murray’s case, physics. In mine, show business. You read the article and see the journalist has absolutely no understanding of either the facts or the issues. Often, the article is so wrong it actually presents the story backward—reversing cause and effect. I call these the “wet streets cause rain” stories. Paper’s full of them.

In any case, you read with exasperation or amusement the multiple errors in a story, and then turn the page to national or international affairs, and read as if the rest of the newspaper was somehow more accurate about Palestine than the baloney you just read. You turn the page, and forget what you know.

With that in mind, here are the first two paragraphs of the New York Times’ Edward Wyatt’s coverage (emphasis mine):

The Federal Communications Commission voted 3-2 on Thursday to move forward with a set of proposed rules aimed at guaranteeing an open Internet, prohibiting high-speed Internet service providers from blocking or discriminating against legal content flowing through their pipes.

While the plan is meant to prevent data from being knowingly slowed by Internet providers, it would allow content providers to pay for a guaranteed fast lane of service. Some opponents of the plan argue that allowing some content to be sent along a fast lane would essentially discriminate against content not sent along that lane.

Wyatt is no dummy, but he’s a financial reporter. Meanwhile, the Times’ tech columnists have yet to publish anything on today’s decision.

Gautham Nagesh of the Wall Street Journal took a similar angle:

The Federal Communications Commission advanced new Internet rules that would ban broadband providers from blocking or slowing down websites, but allow them to strike deals with content companies for preferential treatment.

As did Reuters’ Alina Selyukh:

U.S. telecommunications regulators on Thursday formally proposed new “net neutrality” rules that may let Internet service providers charge content companies for faster and more reliable delivery of their traffic to users.

All of these reports do include references to the disputed fairness of these proposed rules, but all of them couch them in “critics say”-type language. The “fast lane” terminology that the FCC is using, meanwhile, is given adequate play, despite being complete bullshit.

I still haven’t heard a clear explanation as to why preferential treatment deals are not implicitly creating the slow traffic that Wheeler is ostensibly opposed to.